Practice, contemplation, and insights

Samskara (and the awesome and the awful)

Those of you who have been attending my classes for the past couple of weeks already know that my overall theme for the fall session is cultivating a sense of wonder (abhuta). Feeling wonder is one aspect of the Anusara principle of “opening to grace.” It is seeing who we are and what we are within space and time with a sense of amazement at the limitations and the foibles, as well as the strengths and delights.

This week I was thinking about abhuta in the context of samskara — the markings or grooves or scars in our being from how we have lived our lives (and perhaps past lives, if those were also lived by us — personally not sure about that). I had a dialogue earlier this week that resulted from over 110 years of combined history that was not optimal. Reflecting on the precipitating factors, though, and marveling at the web of history, environment, education, and action that combined to give rise to the conversation led me to a sense of wonder indeed. It is by cultivating the ability to step back and appreciate the wondrousness of the dance that we learn from a steady practice that, I think, can help make it possible to shift in how we behave and react to things.

From a physical perspective, most of our challenges and difficulties are based on what we have done with and in our bodies over the course of our lives. We use the yoga alignment principles to create new grooves and to shift from the old repetitive patterns, so that we can not only alleviate pain and misalignment, but to expand the possibility of discovering ever more joy and wonder in and through our bodies and senses. Both the physical and meditation practices help us shift similar patterns (dissolve and transform samscaras and their impact), so that instead of deepening old grooves, we erase or dissolve them and create new life-enhancing ones.

It may seem odd to marvel at our stuff, especially when it does not appear to be serving us, but keep in mind that both the awesome and the awful, being both all about awe, can give rise to a recognition of the great and exquisite mysteries of being.


Last Night I Slept At My Parents House (and akrama)

I slept last night in the room that I slept in as a child. My mother now uses the room to store some of the vestiges of her old antiquing business. The carpet, wallpaper, and curtains from the 1960’s are gone, but the bed is the same one in which I had slept. The picture on the wall is a kit for making a stuffed animal that my Grandma Rose had bought me (probably when I was about 8) at the Brooklyn Museum of Art that my mother decided would be better as framed art than a sewing project for me.

The neighborhood looks different–it is far more developed as is everywhere near a big city–but the bones are the same.

It is a challenge not to feel the weight of my history and ancestry when I return. Taking the time to meditate when I woke helped me stay fully in my adult self.

When we meditate, we ideally dissolve our individual consciousness into the luminous spaciouness of universal consciousness. In that space, where we are temporarily not experiencing ourselves as an individual, we are also not experiencing our individual self in the sequence (krama) of time. The luminous spaciousness of meditative consciousness is sequenceless (akrama) and, as universal consciousness, is the place in which the sequences of being in time and space arise.

What I experienced this morning when I meditated was that I did not have to be flooded with the emotions of my, to try to graciously describe, emotionally challenging childhood. In the space of meditation I could bring to my day an acceptance of all of my life and be where I am at present, coming to a place of recognition that although I lived all of my history, it neither defines me nor binds me from expanding into a space of growing love and light.


The Search Continues (based on some dreaming)

In 2000 or 2001, shortly before I started practicing Anusara yoga, a teacher who regularly played music in class, played for us a recording of Alice Coltrane singing a tantric chant to Siva and the Goddess Bhuvaneshvari.  I only heard the chant once while we were in savasana — corpse pose/final relaxation.  Although I only heard the chant once, for several months afterwards, I found myself having a recurring dream that I was wondering in a neighborhood that looked like the one where I grew up and went to high school and chanting the full chant.  At the time I merely found it curious that I seemed to have learned the sanskrit just by hearing the chant one time.  I have since learned that the recording may have been done right near my high school; that is where the Coltrane’s had a recording studio.  I also learned that the chant was a tantric chant.  At the time, my teachers were coming from a classical yoga perspective.  Did I actually learn the chant by osmosis?  Was having the very vibration of the chanting near where I lived and studied the catalyst for me, as a receptive being, discovering a path of tantric yoga?

I have found other recordings of the chant.  One is Atman’s “Dancing to the Goddess” on the Eternal Dance CD, which is an electronica version.  The other is Ragani’s “Om Mata” on the Best of Both Worlds, which is a very nice kirtan/pop version.  I have several of Alice Coltrane’s recordings, which are great jazz, if you aren’t familiar with Alice Coltrane as a fabulous musician in her own right.  Recently I searched again on the internet to see if the bootleg had become available.  There was nothing on YouTube (though some good Alice Coltrane things to watch).    I bought Alice Coltrane’s “Radha-Krsna Mana Sankirtana,” which was originally recorded in 1977 (when I was in high school) and reissued in 2005, as I thought that was a promising source.  It has some good things on it, but no luck finding the recording I wanted to hear.

The chant goes like this:

Samba sadasiva, samba sadasiva, samba sadasiva, samba shambo.

Om mata, om mata, om sri mata, jagade mata.

Om bhuvaneshvari, sri bhuvaneshvari, hari parashakti, devi bhuvaneshvari.

It is a chant to the benevolent, auspicious one within, the radiant goddess, the creatrix of the world.  Bhuvaneshvari is one of the ten wisdom goddesses.

Please advise if you have access to the Alice Coltrane or another recording of this beautiful chant.


The Great Game: Afghanistan

I am writing this from the terrace area of the Shakespeare Theater, in between parts two and three of “The Great Game: Afghanistan.”. It is a testament to the quality of the writing, acting, and production that we still feel ready for the third set of plays. What “The Game” emphasizes, whomever authored the segment or what moment in history is being emphasized is that we are all connected and that if we do not learn from our history, we are destined to repeat ourselves and so suffer.

I am certain that there is little that I can do as an individual to prevent history repeating itself in Afghanistan (though I write letters to President Obama on occasion). I can, however, pay attention to the lesson here with regard to my own, individual life. I can strive to unravel and dissolve old patterns from my history and to create new patterns that will better serve me. In asana practice, I seek therapeutically to realign the physical body and the energetic body so that old pains and struggles do not continue to interfere with my living as fully, joyously, and expansively as I can in my body. Through meditation, I seek to know the true joy of being and to have the light of consciousness illuminate how I respond to people and events. When I can do this, I have the choice not to create new hurts and problems that are just like the old ones.

What I know from my own practice and life is that not repeating history is hard, but it is what gives the possibility of living in true freedom. Is it enough to work on just my own self not repeating history? Do we need to try and bring shifts to larger patterns to truly be of service? I do not know the answer to the latter question, but I do know that the duty to try and shift myself is not just for me, but extends beyond me, like the ripples extending out from a pebble thrown into a pond.


What If?–Part II

Yesterday I asked about setting an intention to be blissful in every thing we do for a day. Having the intention is a good start (I might not even have thought of such an intention without my yoga practice). What I really want is to be able to manifest that intention. For me, I know that it is important for me to live more consciously and with more subtle discrimination (viveka) if I am to come close to living such intention.
A rare few live in bliss without effort. For the rest of us, that is why we have the practices. So we can practice moving into and resting in bliss.


What If? (an Invitation)

What if for a whole day you did every single thing with the intention of becoming blissful? If you have them, taking care of pets or kids or elders? Every thing that you did at work? How you went from one place to another? Every morsel of food and drink you selected, prepared, and ate? All your errands? Your getting dressed and undressed? Your correspondence?

Would you even need to “practice yoga” by doing postures or meditating if you were living yoga–fully unifying the day to day with the conscious intention of experiencing the full bliss of consciousness at every moment?

Why not try it for a day and see what happens? And then let us know.


What a Good Murder Mystery Can Teach Us About Sadhana

Surely that’s what life was all about?  Opening doors and peering through them–perhaps even finding the rose gardens there… (Colin Dexter, The Dead of Jericho)

The good murder mysteries — the ones that teach much about human nature and do not dwell graphically on gore and violence — can teach us much about the power of sadhana (yoga practice).  The best mysteries are ones in which the protagonist teaches us by his or her investigation into the mystery that with careful, steady discipline, the application of well-developed technique and study, consistent effort, and an openness to trust intuition tempered by discrimination, we can reveal to ourselves the truth of the matter.  The truth revealed is not just the identity, means, and motive of the murderer (mystery solved), but the knowledge of the extraordinariness of human being in all of its manifestations, both good and evil.


I Was Browsing Looking for a Poem

I was browsing; I was looking for a poem to read to a friend because I was not ready to write one myself.  I found several that were right for me to read, but not to share, and this one I wanted to share more widely because of the delight it is bringing me to read it:

Karma Repair Kit:  Items 1-4

1.  Get enough food to eat,

and eat it.

2.  Find a place to sleep where it is quiet and sleep there.

3.  Reduce intellectual and emotional noise

until you arrive at the silence of yourself,

and listen to it.


Richard Brautigan, The Pill v. the Springhill Mine Disaster

I had a real fondness for Brautigan when I was a teenager.  Every once and a while, I will pick up one of his books and remember why.  If you enjoyed reading this poem, please go buy a book by Brautigan to thank him.


A Key to a Steady Home Practice (Letting Go of Preconceived Notions)

One of the things most likely to keep us from having a steady home practice (whether asana or meditation or both) is being unable to live up to our own expectations or preconceived notions of what is a proper or good home practice.  If we think that we need to do a certain amount for an established length of time or that we have to feel fit enough to do a particular range or poses than inevitably we will be challenged in practicing regularly in a busy life.

It is good to have a set time and place for our practice and to try and practice for a length of time that will foster the growth and balance in ourselves that we seek from our practice.  To stay steady, though, we have to be flexible with our expectations.  When we are sick or injured or exhausted, it will be appropriate to do restoratives or a gentle practice rather than a more vigorous one, even if we are accustomed to doing more advanced asana.  If we are pressed for time, even if we like to spend 45 minutes to an hour in the morning, perhaps we will do 25 minutes.  If we usually meditate in a special place in the house, but we have to leave for the airport at 6am, we can find a quiet moment to breathe for three minutes before we leave the house and then meditate on the plane.

This morning, for example, I knew that the only opportunity to have a walk would be early morning because the electricians are coming for more work towards installing the solar panels.  Having a walk on days I am working at home is critical for my ability to sit at my desk and concentrate.  Instead of doing my usual 45-60 minutes of practice, which gives me time for some asana and pranayama before sitting for meditation followed by savasana, I chose to sit for 25 minutes and then go for a walk.  I will practice more this evening when I am off work.

Once we give ourselves permission to be flexible about how much to practice and what, then it will be easier to stick to practicing.  I think it is far more important to practice several times a week than to have a practice that is thorough and “by the book” but is only done sporadically.  What are your challenges in developing a steady practice?  If you have a steady practice, what has helped you stick to it?  Have your expectations about what a practice should be interfered with your practicing?